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In mid-February of 2007, I attended some lively sessions of chowtal (Hindi, cautāl), a boisterous Bhojpuri folk song genre, in a Hindu temple in a small town a few hours from Banaras (Varanasi), North India. The following weekend I was singing chowtal, in an identical style, with an Indo-Guyanese ensemble in Queens, New York City. In the subsequent season of the vernal Holi (Hindi, holī) festival, in March 2008, I found myself singing along with a group of Indo-Fijians in Sacramento, California, as they performed a similar version of one of the same chowtal songs. Despite the nearly identical styles of the three song sessions, they were separated not only by thousands of miles, but more significantly, by the more than 90 years that have elapsed since indentured emigration from the Bhojpuri region ceased. Subsequently, cultural contacts between that region and its diasporic communities in the Caribbean and Fiji became minimal, and those between the latter two sites have been practically nil. Given such geographic and temporal remoteness, the similarities between the three chowtal renderings I witnessed are in themselves noteworthy, as are, in a different sense, the disparities. In this article, I provide a basic description and analysis of chowtal as performed in Indo-Caribbean music and, to a lesser extent, in India and Fiji. I further compare and contrast the traditions as extant today and offer suggestions as to how diasporic dynamics have contributed to the dramatically successful way that the genre has taken root and flourished in the diaspora, while declining in India itself.


This article was originally published in Asian Music, available at doi:10.1353/amu.0.0025



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